Matthew 5:31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
Some Rabbis had a strict view of divorce (divorce only for some grave matrimonial offence, something ‘unseemly’ or ‘indecent’) and some had a lax view (divorce for any reason as long as a certificate of divorce was given). The Pharisees preferred the lax view. Jesus taught that we, as believers, have a different perspective – that marriage was to be permanent, a sacred institution established by God. Marriage makes us one flesh with our spouse. The Pharisees were preoccupied with the grounds for divorce; Jesus with the institution of marriage. Jesus calls us to reflect God’s character, not the shifting sands of culture (easy divorce) and the lusts of our sinful nature (sexual promiscuity). We, as believers, are to be cross-cultural in our dedication to faithfulness in marriage.
Marriage is one of the chief means which God uses to develop our character. We are not to take lightly an institution which God established and compared to the relationship of Jesus and the church (Ephesians 5:25). Marriage is maximized only in the context of Christian discipleship, with Christian attitudes and behaviors. John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th century) said this about this passage: “For he that is meek, and a peacemaker, and poor in spirit, and merciful, how shall he cast out his wife. He that is used to reconcile others, how shall he be at variance with his own wife.” Proverbs 5 says that we are to rejoice in the wife of our youth (vs. 18) and be intoxicated with her love (vs. 19).
Nevertheless, there are two clear exceptions in Scripture to the permanence of marriage. This passage is the first exception – the sin of marital unfaithfulness, which is not to be thought of as necessitating divorce, only permitting divorce. Jesus’ intention was always reconciliation. The second exception is when one of the spouses is an unbeliever and willfully and permanently deserts the believing partner (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).
Jesus is faithful to His Church. He laid down His life for the Church. If we are to become like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18), we will strive to be faithful to our spouse and to help him/her to be all that God called him/her to be. Choose faithfulness and maximize the joy of your marriage.